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Software Review of:
Street Maps USA
with USA Vacation Planner

 

Larry Grosskopf is a Clinical Psychologist at the San Antonio State Hospital, with a keen interest in computers. His wonderful wife's name is Marta. They are raising two children, Zoë, age 9 and Jackson, age 7.

From the June, 2002 issue of PC Alamode Magazine

Do you enjoy getting value for your money? If I have an opportunity to save money or get something that I want for a good price, then I certainly try to capitalize on my good fortune. In these days and times, that is one of the small pleasures life affords us. More on that money-saving, good fortune will be addressed later in this review. Right now, let’s go on to discuss the merits of these software programs. 

This package is not just one program or even two programs bundled together. The Vacation Travel Pack consists of Street Maps USA and USA Vacation Planner, which was previously entitled Hunting and Fishing Travel Maps. These programs were combined into an economical package by the Cosmi Corporation and distributed under a license from CD Micro, Inc. with a 2001 date on the CD’s. A third program which seems to have been an afterthought or throw-in was a simplistic image editing program called Photo Editor +. These 3 programs were all quite easy to install and were not difficult to learn to use. 

In describing these programs, it must be noted that mapping programs have a tendency to look similar.  The quality of the details and useful features in a mapping program, as well as its user friendliness and reliability (does it work like it is purported to work) should determine whether or not the program is good or not-so-good.  Therefore, since I am reviewing a “package” that includes 2 programs that I purchased, each program will be considered separately in this review with both strengths and weaknesses addressed. 

Street Maps USA 
This program was simple and straightforward to install and initially worked fine on my Windows XP Professional system. I have to call this a conglomeration program. It is called Street Maps USA and dated 2001 on the CD and on installation but when the program opens for use, it shows the name “Cosmi Streets” and dates it 2000. Hmmm, also, when you utilize the “Help” menu, the Help title bar indicates that it is Help for “Swift Platinum Street Maps USA”. It is undoubtedly the same program, and it is likely that it has been bought (at least once) from one company and renamed by the new company without changing some of the internal titles and names that are displayed to the user. 

Ease of use determines how much you are likely to come back to a program and use it again. At least for me, that is a significant factor. This program was moderately easy to use, there were only a few commands available, which limits its power, but the commands were useful, you could find an address, find a city, state or territory. Using this program, I learned that I used to live at 38o 14’ 17” North latitude and 85o 43’ and 44” West longitude (measured in degrees, minutes and seconds [o, ‘, & “]) when my residence was on Highland Ave. in Louisville, KY. My current residence is located 29o 34’ & 47” North latitude and 98o 25’ & 51” West longitude. Quickly now, latitude is how far north of the equator you are located and longitude is how far east or west of the Prime Meridian you are located. It’s no wonder it is so much hotter here than there, we are much closer to the equator but of course, you already knew that. However, the latitude and longitude of Pensacola Florida, the city that I grew up in is 30o 30” & 53” North and 87o 15’ & 35” West. Many people may not realize that San Antonio is actually further south than some parts of Florida. If you already knew that, give yourself a pat on the back.

The zoom ability was quite useful and allowed you to get right down to street and house number level, although additional information was scarce at that level. There was a way to obtain more control by right clicking you were able to “configure” the map and set general interests such as schools, municipal buildings, parks or churches; drawing properties including line colors, style and width; labels, for example Rivers, Roads or Streets and Mountains; and mouse function controls. The downside was that on some of the intermediate maps, the labels were hard to read and you needed to redraw the maps much too frequently for my taste. The final downside was that the program kept giving me an error. Although it did not stop the program, the error kept popping up, making my life miserable as I tried to navigate through the program and use its functions. The error message essentially prevented me from using the program and did not explain how to fix the error. Overall, this program earned a C- if I were giving it a grade. 

USA Vacation Planner
This program has two names, as it is also entitled Hunting and Fishing Travel Maps and Vacation Planner. No wonder they shortened the name. When I first received the mapping software “package,” I falsely assumed the better of the two programs was on the first CD and this mapping program was just a throw-in. I was wrong on my assumption. This program was more limited in some ways such as the level of ability to zoom (only a two-mile area) but was better hands down with the ability to find a zip code, in addition to finding a city or address; demarcating a found address with a house symbol; creating driving routes and displaying text driving or travel directions which you can then print out. The directions also included mileage and suggested travel time for the trip. Oh, I forgot to mention that you could also print out a map with the travel route delineated. This is an excellent feature if you are planning a driving vacation or road trip. The text and colors were clear and crisp. Another nifty feature which puts this program into the B+ grade category is the ability to add your own text, symbols, or lines to the map and move existing ones, should you desire. 

In creating maps and figuring out routes, this program is masterful. You may also set the speed at which you drive and see what averaging different speeds will make in your trip. For example, in a theoretical trip I took to my brothers’ house from mine, the distance was 721 miles. The driving time at 60 mph was 12 hours and 2 minutes while the driving time at 70 mph was suggested to be 10 hours 17 minutes. Is an hour and forty-five minutes worth the extra chances you would be taking driving faster? Each of us must decide that one for ourselves. Other key features that made this program stand out above the other one was the ability to choose from multiple options for your map. Examples would include choosing from address, city, county, state, zip code, latitude/longitude, airport, hunting location or other place. Drop-down menus carried ready to use lists for each of these options. I liked the way this program worked and the features and ease of use very much. The colors were crisp and the text was clear and if you used your mouse to click on a selected map symbol, the program displayed a text box that reported the key information about that symbol. Finally, I liked this program much more because it worked without causing any errors in my use of it. Suffice it to say that it was much better despite the fact that it was a notably more powerful and complex software program. While I would not recommend Street Maps USA, I would recommend this “package” for the USA Vacation Planner program.

This package was obtained in a rather unique manner. It was offered free by an Internet program called iRewards. This is an Internet shopping program that offers many free and some wholesale items on their website for their members. You simply join and then go through what they have available and make your selections. Of course, even for the “free” items, there is a shipping and handling charge. For this two-CD set, I was charged $9.95 for shipping and handling. While that seems to be a rather steep charge for shipping and handling, all in all, it was worth the money.


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